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Tuesday, November 1, 1994

Camp Turns 40

                                                                                                             November 1994

Dear GUCI Staff:

I have always enjoyed looking ahead to the coming summer.  It’s exciting to begin hiring staff, planning programs, even planning the physical renovations and repairs needed for the impending arrival of the little (and not-so-little) nippers.  But, with an eye-and-a-half on the future, it seems that I always cast that additional half-an-eye on the past.  I started thinking about this on a recent trip I made to Toronto.  I traveled there with Jonah Stroh who is my son’s age and certainly of the current generation of camp staff.  On the long ride up north, we talked at great length about various programs and procedures at camp, and I benefited from hearing his perceptions.  This was all “Future” talk, and was the beginning of much that will become reality when June 1995 rolls around.  But that Saturday morning at Temple Har Zion, both before and after the regular religious school camp presentations, I was touched by some of camp’s recent history. 

Har Zion has had a long history in our camp, and many of its sons and daughters served on our staff during my early days as Director, during the mid-1970’s. (Danny and Beth Gottlieb and a few others got the ball rolling while I was still Unit Heading up in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin).  Camp still means a great deal to those former GUCI staff members.  I was touched because several went out of their way to show up that morning just to say hi, give me a hug, and show off the future generation of campers they had produced.  While looking toward the success of the camp’s future, its past reached out and gave my heart a little tug.

Forty summers have now passed since the Union of American Hebrew Congregations founded its camping program.  In 1954 Union Institute, in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin held its first summer program.  Three years later Union Camp Institute opened its gates in Zionsville, Indiana.  Is it possible that the men and women who pioneered this camping movement had any idea of the impact it would have on future generations of Reform Jews?  I certainly had no idea of what would lie ahead for me when I arrived on the scene at Union Institute with a duffel bag in one hand and a baseball mitt in the other during the summer of 1958.  How could I have foreseen that thirty-seven years later I would be writing to you about the history and the future of our camps?  Everyone should have the good fortune to be able to do this kind of time warp again (take a step to the left and then a step to the ri-yi-yi-yi-yi-ight).

So, on the ride back from Toronto, I couldn’t help thinking about all the thousands of hearts our camps have touched during these forty summers.  How many first loves, how many deeply Jewish identifying moments, how many invaluable conversations between campers, staff, rabbis, and educators, and how many lives enhanced by what we do and who we are.  And more important, how many are yet to come to camp in the next forty years, and how important the experience will be for them as well.

Last weekend, the Great Lakes Region honored Gerry Kaye for his twenty-five years as Director of Olin-Sang-Ruby.  It is a warm Mazal Tov that goes out to Gerry from each of us who has shared in the history of our camps; we, who have touched others and been touched ourselves.  Here’s to the future, L’Chayim!


P. S. GADOL: Our annual fund-raiser is underway, this year raising money for the renovations to our tennis and basketball courts.  Whatever contribution you can make will be greatly appreciated.  Thank you.